pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Consumed with Light

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 3-6

Verse 6: “God made… his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.

Photo credit: Karen Alsop

Paul writes today about the reality that not all people will understand the gospel. To some the message of the “good news” is veiled. For Paul, the lost, or those without faith in Jesus Christ, are “perishing” – doomed to an unpleasant eternity. Paul recognizes that those without Christ have been “blinded” by the gods of this world. These gods remain a barrier or a stumbling block to many people today. The love of money, power, status, recognition, popularity, privilege and other worldly things prevent people from “seeing the light of the gospel”. One does not have to look very hard to find folks who are like this. They are focused only on self and the gods of this world. Their focus is inward and upward, personally and socially.

For Paul, the focus was also inward and upward. But the inward focused on knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and the upward focused on bringing God the glory. Paul had always called others to Jesus Christ. In his humble and confident manner Paul preached the good news of Jesus Christ to lots of people. Some have allowed the light and love of God to shine into the darkness and selfishness of their hearts. Others have been blinded, the gospel remained veiled. Like Paul, we encounter both types of people as we live out our faith, “preaching” in whatever way we can, sometimes with words.

For those who choose Jesus as Lord and Savior, we know the truth of verse six: “God made… his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. The light that God shines into our hearts reveals the glory of God as demonstrated in the life and witness of Jesus Christ. Jesus, like us, lived in this world. His world certainly had its share of brokenness, marginalization, injustice, oppression… Jesus spent his years in ministry bringing healing and welcome, justice and compassion. Doing so he built community and he fostered a culture of other over self. Love was the core value of this community and its culture. Paul lived each day as a servant to the gospel “for Jesus’ sake”. Paul was consumed with sharing Jesus with all he met, whether by words or actions or simply by the way he lived his life. May we be consumed in the same way.

Prayer: Light of the world, illumine my heart today with the light of your love and grace. Allow that light to open my eyes to the places and people and circumstances that need to know and walk in your light and love. Guide my words, actions, and life to reveal Jesus to others. Amen.


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News Spread Quickly

Reading: Mark 1: 21-28

Verse 28: “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Our gospel reading for today and tomorrow centers on Jesus’ authority. After arriving in Capernaum, Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. As Jesus begins teaching, the people are “amazed” because he was “one who had authority”. Jesus spoke and taught in a way that clearly set him apart from the local scribes and teachers of the law that usually taught in the local synagogue. Jesus had a knowledge that was inherent, not learned or taught. Jesus, therefore, possessed a God-given, divine authority.

During his time in the synagogue a man possessed by an evil spirit cries out, recognizing Jesus as “the Holy One of God”. The spirit acknowledges the divine power in Jesus – “are you going to destroy us”? In response Jesus quiets the man and tells the evil spirit to come out of him. With a shriek the man is freed from his demon and is made well. This action adds a layer of amazement for those in the synagogue that day. As one might expect, “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee”.

Although not possessed, we each have moments when an evil spirit rises up within us, tempting us to sin. In those moments we also bump up against the Holy One – the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In that moment, competing voices speak into our decision. Good and evil vie for control, for the outcome of that moment. The deceiver whispers lies, the Spirit speaks truth. In that moment, do we give Jesus authority in our lives? In the decision, do we allow the Holy One to have power over self?

These moments happen over and over on our journey of faith, many times every day. Each outcome determines how others see us and how they see our faith. As we walk out our days may we do so in a manner that causes “news about him” to spread quickly.

Prayer: Lord God, in each word and in each action, guide me to be attuned to the living presence of Jesus Christ within me. Tune my heart to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Bend my will to your will. Amen.


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Falling Short

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 1-6

Verse 3: “The man who loves God is known by God”.

Paul begins this section on food sacrificed to idols by speaking of knowledge. He is talking about what is inside our heads. This is usually where faith begins. Most Christians follow the same path: learning about God, Jesus, and faith in Sunday school, youth group… as they mature in faith until one day the head knowledge becomes heart truth. As is true with almost everything in life, in our faith we understand more and more the longer we journey in faith. Within the Corinthian church some were relying their superior knowledge and it was causing division and it was hindering the faith journey of the new believers. In our churches today, we still do this at times. We allow our knowledge to “puff” us up.

The first way this happens is when we make our churches feel exclusive. We all look and talk alike, we act alike, we appear to be perfect Christians. We have those that we gravitate to each Sunday morning. A visitor can feel like an outsider very quickly, especially when they are not like the homogeneous crowd. Someone who comes because they are struggling with something really feels out of place when they enter a room full of people without any faults or issues. To further create a sense of “us” and “them” we use insider language and big fancy words. Maybe most regulars know what sanctification, justification, atonement, sacrament… mean. But if you are new to the faith, these terms can make you feel like an outsider very quickly.

In the Corinthian church the mature believers knew “that an idol is nothing at all”. To them, idols were just carved pieces of stone or wood. The mature believers knew that there was only one God, only one Lord. But for the new believers, the ones who had grown up worshipping these idols all their lives, this idea was a struggle. The mature believers were saying, in essence, “just get over it”, “just believe what I say I believe”. They were not willing to walk in love with their new brothers and sisters in Christ. They were not willing to enter the struggle, to walk alongside the one wrestling with their conscience.

We do this in our churches when we fail to talk about our sins and struggles. Church becomes a social club for the perfect and for the saints. Nope, no sin here. We know all we need to know to be good little Christians. In verse three Paul writes, “The man who loves God is known by God”. Loving God must lead to loving others. Jesus unpacks the truth of this idea in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31-46). When we say we love God, when we say all are welcome in our churches but do not really welcome the sinners and broken people into our communities of faith, we are falling short. When we look down on those “obviously” dealing with sin by making them feel unwelcome, we are falling short. When we indirectly but clearly say come back when you have your life together, we are falling short. May it not be so church. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to truly love others as a witness to my love for you. Strip away my pride and judgmental tendencies, guide me to walk side by side in love with those in struggle, with those living outside of your love. Give me the courage to admit my struggles and sins within the body of Christ. Grant me a welcoming and compassionate spirit. Amen.


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Listen and Learn

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 8: “Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy”.

On Monday I focused in on the call part of this passage. Just like Samuel, we all have a story of how God calls us. Samuel might not have known his call story if not for Eli. At this point, Eli is like Samuel’s father figure. Eli has raised Samuel since he was weaned from Hannah. Eli has been serving God a long time and has taught Samuel much, but “Samuel did not yet know the Lord”. Samuel knows who God is and knows a lot about God, but he does not know God. The head knowledge has not yet become heart wisdom. It is Eli that perceives that God is calling Samuel. Eli’s willingness to allow God to speak through another is a testament to his trust in God and to the love and trust that he has in Samuel. It is an example of humble servant leadership.

When Samuel does invite God to speak, the words are difficult to hear. Destruction will fall upon Eli’s household because Eli’s sons are “contemptible” and because Eli failed to “restrain them”. In the morning Eli presses Samuel, wanting to know what God said, probably sensing the bad news. Samuel speaks truth to Eli. Eli accepts the words, humbly acknowledging God’s goodness. I cannot imagine how hard it was for Samuel to say these words to Eli. Yet Samuel loves and trusts Eli enough to tell him.

Both Eli and Samuel understood that there was something bigger than themselves. Both Eli and Samuel loved and trusted God, as well as each other, enough to listen and to learn from each other. To listen and learn from each other. To understand the bigger picture. How our land needs these skills today! Both sides are so polarized that they cannot even hear each other, never mind listening to one another. Listening is essential. It is the only way to discern a good and right way forward. Yes, we can continue to plod down the road we are on, filled with self and contempt and half truths and rancor. We can walk the road of Eli’s household. Or we can choose a better way, one covered in love and peace and trust. These things will not come easy. Surrender never does. Elevating other over self, walking the path of unity and compromise, fighting for our way not my way – all are the work of a humble servant. May it be so Lord. Heal our land.

Prayer: Lord, the wind is howling here in South Dakota. Things are shaking and groaning. It reminds me of our nation right now. The winds can fan the flames or they can usher in something new. Bring a new sense of humble servant leadership to the land, blowing away the chaff. Bless us, O God. Amen.


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Too Wonderful for Me

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse 4: “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord”.

As we begin three days with the reading from Psalm 139, we look today at how intimately God knows us. Notice in the opening six verses how much of the active action is on God’s side of the equation. Yes, the psalmist comes and goes, sits and rises. But it is God who searches and perceives and knows completely. The psalmist understands well the dynamics of a relationship with God. So, on the one hand this Psalm is a great reminder that God is God and, well, we are not. But even moreso it is a reminder of how deep of a relationship God desires to have with every single one of us.

Psalm 139 reveals an intimate relationship. God knows us inside out, from top to bottom. Have you ever had such a good friend that you could finish their sentences and predict to a really high degree what they would say or do in certain situations? Multiply that by about 100 and that is where God is with us. Verse four illustrates this well: “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord”. The word “completely” reveals the depth of God’s knowledge of you and I. Not only does God know the words we are about to speak, God also knows why we are saying it and he knows the thoughts and emotions and all else behind our words. We also read today that God “perceives my thoughts” too – they don’t even have to become words and God knows our inner self, our heart, our mind. Jesus references this level of God’s care for us in Matthew 6 when he compares God’s care for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field to God’s care and love for us, his children. The degree to which God loves us more is hard to fathom.

In verse five we see a demonstration of how God cares for us. The psalmist writes, “You hem me in”. Imagine Jesus saying “I am the good shepherd” and see yourself within the sheepfold, totally safe and secure. The psalmist continues, “you have laid your hand upon me”. There is a guidance and direction, a leading and protection to these words. So much is involved in God’s relationship with us. Today may we reflect on this and may we rejoice with the psalmist as we too exclaim that this love is “too wonderful” for me. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: O Lord my God, indeed how wonderful you are. And how powerful and intelligent and caring. And how searching and probing and discerning. It is hard to fathom how well you know me. And it is a bit scary. Yet I know that it is love that guides our relationship. I am so thankful for my place in your family. You are an awesome and amazing God. Amen.


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Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse 12: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”.

Paul is writing today about the balance of unity and diversity. Whether in church or politics, whether on a team or in a family, this balance is essential if that organization or group is going to be its best. An organization or group can function in total unity but it is less than it would be with some diversity. Yet if one swings to the other extreme and only diversity is honored, it can challenge the functioning of the organization or group. When an organization or group is sure of those essential beliefs or elements that bring unity, there is often space created for diversity.

We have all been in an organization or group where everyone was or wanted to be the same or equal. On Pentecost all the believers were given the same gift – to speak in different languages. Imagine, though, how incomplete the church would be if that was the only gift of the Spirit. Imagine if the Spirit did not give wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and prophesying too. If everyone in the church was exactly the same, how hard it would be to learn and grow in the faith. So instead the Spirit “gives them to each one, just as he determines”. Our diversity of gifts allows the church to accomplish far more for the kingdom of God.

In verses twelve and thirteen Paul speaks to the idea of unity and diversity existing in balance. Here he writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”. Think about what you would be without a heart or without a spine or without a foot or without ears. You would definitely be less – if you were anything at all. The church is the same. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit each and every one of us has something to offer that makes the whole better. Yes, when people withhold or do not use the gifts that they have been given, the church is less.

Paul reminds us that we were all baptized into one body by the one Spirit. May that be evident in our words, thoughts, and actions each day.

Prayer: God of all, help me to cherish diversity amidst our unity. Guide me to value each person for the gift that they are and for the gifts that they bring. Lead me to help folks see and develop and use their gifts for the better building of your kingdom. Amen.


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Walking as Witnesses

Reading: Acts 2: 14a and 22-33

Verse 24: “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him”.

As Acts begins, the early church is starting to take shape and to grow. In today’s passage we read part of one of the first sermons given about Jesus Christ. Peter uses Old Testament scripture to connect his audience to Jesus. In verses 17-21 he quotes from Joel 2 and in our passage today he quotes from Psalm 16. In preaching to a mostly Jewish crowd Peter is using their prior knowledge to build new understanding.

In today’s passage Peter recounts the basics of the crucifixion before turning to the reality of the resurrection. In verse 24 he writes, “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him”. Impossible. As Peter links into all the Old Testament scripture that speaks of and prophesies about Jesus, he believes that the plan, God’s plan, was perfect. All the dots connect. Therefore it is impossible for death to interrupt God’s perfect plan. Peter then uses the quote from Psalm 16 as his proof text. He reads these words of David as words about Christ – David’s promised heir upon the throne forever.

Peter closes his case with an eyewitness claim. Not only do the scriptures speak of Jesus’ resurrection, but Peter and his fellow disciples are eyewitness – they have seen the risen Lord. Peter is so sure that he states that they are “witnesses of the fact”. Peter is as sure of what he has seen as he is of the Old Testament passages that speak of the Messiah. All of this leads Peter to the place David found too – to “live in hope”. Jesus Christ is our hope too. He is our promise of God’s love. As we begin to walk anew as Easter people, may we too walk as witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Father God, may I bear witness to the truth of the resurrection today. May all I do and say and think point to the risen Lord, my Savior. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring you all the glory today. Amen.


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That Whoever Believes…

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”.

Nicodemus is a man steeped in religious knowledge. His head is full of a lot of information. He lives mostly in the world of his head, but something is tugging at his heart. That is why he has come to see Jesus. His mind cannot identify the feeling he has but it cannot deny it either. We all have been where Nicodemus is. We want to try and think our way through it, but we cannot. We must experience it by allowing ourselves to feel it. Too often our reaction is to resist or deny or avoid. To go where the Spirit is leading is unknown, out of control, scary – so we do not allow ourselves to go there.

In today’s passage Jesus drives the conversation with Nicodemus. The Pharisee struggles with the idea of being born of the Spirit. Yes, the Old Testament speaks of a prophet who was guided by or even carried by the Spirit. But to be born again? To be born of the Spirit? Being made new and becoming part of God’s family sounds so familiar to our ears. But consider Nicodemus’ context for a moment. He was a part of Judaism since birth. There was no need for rebirth – you were born into the Jewish faith. No outreach or evangelism branch exists in the temple. The circle was closed. Converting to Judaism is a much more modern phenomena. In Nicodemus’ day one was either born a Jew or one was a Gentile. To be born again, into the family of God, just would not fit their context.

So Jesus shifts gears. He sees this is too big a step for Nicodemus to take at once. So he plants a seed. In verse fourteen Jesus connects what Moses offered in the desert to what he will offer from the cross. Nicodemus does not get it yet. But he will one day. In the desert Moses offered relief from the consequences of their sin. Look up at the snake and be saved from this sin. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he will also be lifted up, not just to atone for one sin but for all sins. He tells him that all who look in faith to Jesus can have eternal life. Jesus sums up his mission in verses sixteen and seventeen. Out of love Jesus came to save us from sin and death. All who believe in him as Lord and Savior will receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus shares that he did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Through Christ, God offers love and mercy, grace and forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life in his presence. This is offered to one and all. Jesus came to save the whole world. In parting he asked all disciples to join him in this task. May we do so each and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, as I enter the day, may I be light and love in the places I dwell. May I be the light that shines the focus on your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ. To you be the glory! Amen.


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The Spirit of the Lord

Reading: Isaiah 11: 1-5

Verse 2: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…”

Isaiah 11 begins by connecting Jesse, King David’s father, to the “branch” that will spring up to bear fruit. Looking at this verse through the lens of Jesus, we read these words and connect them to Jesus. The lineage is one logical line of thinking that does connect Jesus to Jesse. But our passage today also describes the person of Jesus. In verses two through six we get a great description of the character and heart of the Messiah.

Verse two begins with “The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…”. Yes, God was clearly with Jesus. In fact, Jesus was God incarnate – God in the flesh. This verse continues to describe what the Spirit gave Jesus: wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and fear of the Lord. Looking through the gospels one can see these gifts sprinkled throughout Jesus’ life and ministry.

The Messiah will rule, but not in the militaristic way that the Jews longer for. Jesus was an altogether different king. He was not influenced by those in the halls of power. He did not judge by first impressions or by what others thought. Jesus was guided by the love of God. Consequently, Jesus cared for the needy with righteousness and brought justice to the poor. Jesus’ reign of love sought to bring all people into the family of God. There was not one person Jesus encountered that he did not try and draw into God’s love. Many rejected Jesus, but he turned no one away.

Our passage closes with two reminders. At the end of verse four we are reminded that Jesus will one day defeat evil and the wicked. His culmination of power will be with might and strength. But it will be clothed in righteousness and faithfulness. The belt and sash will guide his reign forevermore.

As we consider our call to be followers of Jesus, we must seek to be filled by the same Spirit. In our worship and in our study, do we seek to be filled with wisdom, understanding, knowledge…? Do qualities like righteousness, justice, and faithfulness clothe us and our words and actions? If we are to truly follow Jesus, we must live out what Jesus lived out. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me more and more with the qualities of Jesus and of you. Instill in me a sense of justice, a sense of righteousness. In faithfulness, fill me with a deep knowledge of you and your ways. Clothe me with Christ. Amen.


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Daily Walking

Reading: Colossians 1: 9-12

Verse 9: “Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you”.

Today we return to the letter Paul wrote to the church in Colosse. He has heard that they have a solid faith in Jesus Christ and that their faith has led them to become a growing and serving church. In our verses for today, Paul lets them know, “Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you”. Paul and his fellow servants of Christ have been praying daily for the church to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Knowing God’s will is essential to living out one’s faith in the world. Paul covers them in prayer because he knows that living out one’s faith in the world is difficult.

As we read in Amos 7 this week, as we can infer in today’s words from Paul, as we experience in our own lives, walking out our faith in the world is hard. Paul encourages the Colossian church and he encourages us 21st century Christians to live a faith that is worthy of the Lord and that is pleasing to the Lord. The goal is that at the end of each day God looks down from heaven and says, “Well done good and faithful servant”. In our passage today, Paul gives us four practical ways to live faithfully in the world. They should sound familiar.

Paul begins in verse 10 with “bearing fruit in every good work”. In this Paul is compelling us to live out our faith in service to others. Specifically, what did you do yesterday to serve another or to help another grow in their faith? How did your work bear witness to the faith you profess?

Next Paul encourages us to grow in the “knowledge of God”. We do so through daily time with God. We grow in our knowledge of God by reading and meditating upon the word of God – the Bible. How did your time with your Bible yesterday grow or deepen your faith?

Paul’s next step is to be “strengthened with all power”. This happens by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our daily lives. When we are sensitive to and responsive to the whispers and nudges, then the Holy Spirit fills us with power from on high to accomplish the work that God sets before us each day. To what end did the Holy Spirit lead you yesterday?

Lastly, Paul asks us to “joyfully give thanks”. This is not just a Sunday morning or Wednesday night thing. On Thursday, July 10, when did you stop and take time to joyfully thank God for his presence and blessings in your life?

These are hard questions to consider. But as James said, we must not only be hearers of the world but also doers. As we seek to live out our faith in the world, the daily challenge requires daily effort. When we seek to grow in the faith and when we seek to live out our faith in the world each day, we bear witness to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May it be so every day.

Prayer: God, the walk is not ever easy if we are engaging the world. Strengthen and encourage me today to bear witness to my faith. Thank you, God. Amen.